Deflect, defer elsewhere and finally block – councillors answer to innovation

No one likes to be blocked on twitter. My first reaction to being blocked by William Owen-Jones, a local Councillor on the Gold Coast, was that he’s a sore looser and I had won. He’d just thrown in the towel. I was sort of rejoicing. However, there was more to this, I must have really hit a few bad nerves. This happens when cultures and what one values as important are worlds apart. Tweets_with_replies_by_William_Owen-Jones___WOJgoldcoast____Twitter

As can be seen in the photo, attached to this article, William Owen-Jones threw this blocking straight in my face. I never swore or called him bad names and tried very hard not to be rude. I asked questions and responded to tweets directed at me. I’m not really sure that this is acceptable behaviour for a public profile – which can be seen here.

One may also argue, that this blog post, is doing the same thing – throwing it back in his face. However, I’ve been thinking for a while, should I write it or not. Clearly, I’ve decided to do so, because the little online incident shows just how much work is required in the city I live presently, being the Gold Coast Australia, to change attitudes. There is no real tech/entrepreneurial culture here, outside of a small few pockets; whereby those presently classified as leaders have had little, to no real exposure to an innovative tech culture based around startups; nor to large groups of techies & programmer types.

Twitter is the place where you can communicate with persons that you normally wouldn’t. In the case of an elected officials, twitter acts as a conduit through which those persons can engage more readily to find out what constituents needs and wants are. But this works both ways in that constituents can find out the machinations behind the public office. When a public official blocks – it just says, don’t talk to me unless you agree with what I’m going to tell you. For intelligent and inquiring people, thats just so wrong.

I, like so many other techies, in Australia, have been amazed over the last decade or so at the very conservatism in our leaders, at all levels in public and private sectors, regarding technology and innovation. It was the later, that I was really pushing the councillor on. I wanted to know what the local council was doing and how they intended to respond to the recent statements by Australia’s new Prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull that innovation is at the forefront of Australia’s economic agenda – opinion piece can be found here. An excerpt from Malcolm’s speech

“We have to work more agilely, more innovatively, we have to be more nimble in the way we seize the enormous opportunities that are presented to us. We’re not seeking to proof ourselves against the future. We are seeking to embrace it,” Malcolm Turnbull said during ministry announcement speech.

What I found was that I was deflected to things such as a press release to run for office (yea right) Tweets_with_replies_by_William_Owen-Jones___WOJgoldcoast____Twitter

Or I was deferred to other levels of government.

But I wanted to know  “what the local Council policies were?” and “What were they doing?”. Unlike other councils around Australia e.g. Sunshine Coast , there appeared to be no policies. There also seemed to be no understanding of what or how local council, in particular the GCCC, will play a potential role (or like to see it).

It also became clear, that what innovation meant was not well understood by Will – he deferred to some BRW (Business Review Weekly), an Australian publication, definition as “change that adds value”. Thats just continuous improvement. I referred him to Clayton Christensen and disruptive innovation. However that was lost on him ….. no response.

There was no distinction between old school internal enterprise IT and innovation (R&D, entrepreneurship and commercialisation of novel IP) that I could perceive. They seemed to be the same thing??? This really surprised me.

I tried to suggest its time to stop following and to start leading. Clearly by pushing for answers and calling BS on him, I just highlighted his ignorance.

I feel quite strongly, after seeing so many colleagues and associates leave the Gold Coast, for greener pastures, that the GCCC needs to address this question of innovation in a more professional, thought out way. The existing approach is just ticking a few boxes. Old players are protecting turfs (and budgets and reputations).

Its time for some renewal. They can’t just keep blocking it out!!

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Thoughts, learnings, observations and next steps from my August Bay Area trip

I’ve finally done my first US trip. There was a lot that fascinated me, it was so familiar, I was not an outsider, and I was a little surprised how easily I just fitted in. I seemed to run into intelligent and smart people everywhere, that spoke my language/dialect and liked talking about the same things as me.

My first superficial observations of the bay area, was that it appeared old and not well maintained. Like it had peaked in the past. In parts it was very dry and eucalyptus trees were everywhere – I nearly thought at times, I was in a very dry Adelaide summer. In San Francisco itself, on Market St, where my first hotel was, the homeless and other type of street people were a concern. You soon learnt, that as long as you were street aware, they were not going to cause you trouble. There seemed a disconnect though, with my perceived notion, that techies liked newer more modern things.

I was looking to break out of my techie rut (and comfort zone) and seek stimulus to motivate myself. To that end I had the following questions in my mind:
1/ Would I want to live here for an extended period of time?
2/ Is this a good place to pivot my cycling app or create a new startup?
3/ Perceived effort to find co-founders and/or build out an initial team? and
4/ If not in the Bay Area, where else across the globe should I possibly look at?
5/ whats next?

After I’ve summarised my relevant activities for the two weeks, I’ll answer the above the questions in more detail.

Summary of Activities

As it was US summer time, there weren’t as many meet ups on, as I had originally hoped. I did come a little unstuck in the first week with the distances needed to be travelled and accommodation costs put a hole in my budget somewhat.

Summary of first week activities:
1/ familiarisation, getting a US sim and being a tourist – doing a bay tour
2/ attended a Quantified Self meetup http://www.meetup.com/quantifiedself/events/187124622/ – met people from Intel research, Pebble, MisFit
3/ had lunch at Twitter HQ – met an online friend from the UK for the first time
4/ was chauffeured around Palo Alto, Stanford, Sand Hill Rd by a Californian based friend
5/ Attended the Open Forum: The Intel Trinity: Noyce, More & Grove – a lot there were Intel Alumni
6/ visited Runway http://runway.is/ and caught up with an associate from the Gold Coast – who added me onto the secret Aussie Mafia Facebook group
7/ Caught up with another associate now working for IBM after the startup he was working for was acquired by them

Accommodation was really expensive in SF, I flew to Las Vegas Thursday night (was cheaper then staying in SF) and returned to Mountain View Sunday afternoon (was supposed to be morning but flights delayed 2 or so hours due to fog in SF – seems an ongoing interruption).

Summary of second week activities:
1/ Caught the BART/Caltrain from SFO to Mountain View – met and enjoyed a great conversation with two Canadians that had just gained employment at Facebook as Data Scientists
2/ drove for the first time in a LHD vehicle on US roads for a day around Mountain View
– unfortunately the Computer History Museum was closed on Mondays & Tuesdays
3/ Went and saw HQs for
– Facebook (big campus but nothing to see),
– Google (a few things to see, was larger then I imagined)
– Apple (quite large and bought souvenirs from the company store)
– E-bay (smallish)
– Intel (Stood out as people were wearing suit and tie) – spent time in their museum
4/ Stopped by Red Rock Coffee Co, Mountain View http://bit.ly/1t1HWCp
5/ Travelled via Caltrain from Mountain View back to San Francisco – a lot jump off at Palo Alto in the morning
6/ Visited http://startuphouse.com/ (they have two floors of dorm/bunk bed accommodation http://www.startupbed.com/) went across the street and spoke to http://www.techshop.ws/tssf.html
7/ Caught up with an online friend (from Adelaide, that I had not met before) who was interviewing with Google
8/ Took a Tesla for a test drive with a friend near Sausalito
9/ Attended a 500 startup conference – weapons of mass distribution http://wmd.co/ presentation slides http://www.slideshare.net/500startups and YoutUbe videos http://www.slideshare.net/500startups tagged #500Distro. (These guys just sell online – never once talked about old fashioned shoe leather salesmen sales.)

I didn’t quite end up with a full diary on some days. Many persons, I thought I might catch up with based in San Francisco seemed to be travelling and as I stated earlier there weren’t as many meetups as I thought and some were just too far away from where I was staying. You really do need a car and I now have a better sense, of the time required to travel and to get from Point A to Point B around the bay area.

Returned home via a few days in Hawaii. I luckily dodged two hurricanes.

Would I want to live here for an extended period of time? 
The price of accommodation in San Francisco is very expensive. Unless sharing with another (who had a US credit history) or others, I’m not certain I’d be able to afford it initially. I was informed you need to be earning >$200K USD per annum to really live in SF. It is of course a colder climate there to.

Culturally wise I enjoyed meeting and talking with techies and entrepreneurs. All roads appear to lead to the Bay Area presently. I’d fit in well but I would miss Australia. I’d also have to question whether over time, if the San Francisco Hipster culture would wane on me.

Am not certain at my age to, if I could really bunk with 20 year olds, in dorm style accommodation in the SoMA area. I’d much prefer Mountain View or Palo Alto – the cafes (and warmer weather) along University Drive had appeal. I did not however get a sense of the costs, besides that it to, was expensive.

One friend (working for IBM) doesn’t rent, as he is flying around the US and sometimes back to Aus but instead uses friends rooms (if they are available) and/or AirBnB (has some regulars) whilst in SF. He flies out to Reno or elsewhere where he can get a hotel for $30 per night. I was a little surprised to hear this, but he seems comfortable now living out of a suitcase for a year or so.

Another associate, is planting himself in San Diego and will fly in as required to SF. The fog though may impact his timely arrival if just for a day trip.

So really to answer this question, if I was not funded in USD, it would appear just to be too expensive to live there. As to, if it should be in San Francisco or closer to Silicon Valley, that would somewhat depend on the startup itself. (In Whats Next? i’ll state what I observed from Michael S. Malone)

I have heard of a proposal put forward to the Queensland Government for funding of a Startup House for Queenslanders in SF that was initially received positively by the minister here. Something for me to follow up on.

Is this a good place to pivot my cycling app or create a new startup?
The simple and quick answer of course is yes, if accommodation was not a concern.

However I’m not certain I could fund the cost to find product/market fit if I was to do it all in the Bay Area. Plus I wouldn’t be in a position to fund others initially. I’d need to find other local co-founders who are finically independent or work with another complementary startup e.g. working on a tracking device.

A standard Aussie US visa can be used for up to three months at a time, if you do not earn income in USD whilst there. A business visa for Aussies is six months with similar restrictions re earnings. Apparently, others upon setting up a US company then arrange for a H1B (I think??) visa to sponsor themselves. Suspect the Aussie Mafia on FB can assist here. US health insurance is something I don’t understand properly yet.

I did observe, that any discussion around my cycling app (or variations) were generally well received in that people thought there was something there. On reflection, I did not temper this, though with other ideas, to A/B test to see if it was just common to talk about ideas or not. However I did seem to set off a spark within a few.

There was still great momentum around ideas related to health and wellness with the Quantified Self movement. They now will be focusing on access to the data (not just the files but from an everyday users perspective). The Apple Health Kit and Google alternate were not really mentioned. I suspect these will generate new startups.

People were willing to bounce ideas around to – chew the fat if you like. Of course some are looking for angles for you to leverage their startup. This is something that I don’t get enough off around here in the Gold Coast or in Brisbane.

Something that was niggling away in the back of my mind, was getting a job in the Bay Area. Using that to learn more so and work after hours on networking on the startup. However, it somewhat goes against my grain of working for a company that I haven’t equity in and its been a while since I’ve been an employee. Whether I could gain work experience with a VC is a thought but I’ve not explored this properly.

I do not perceive it would be an issue to perform structured interviews in the bay area of 30+ persons/organisations related to hypothesis around a business model pivot of the cycling app. I suspect it would be a very positive and a beneficial way to also learn & network and/or would assist in the next question.

Perceived effort to find co-founders and/or build out an initial team?
There was an enough anecdotal evidence for me to be confident that I could form a team if I had funding. Bicycles, hipsters/techies, entrepreneurs seemed to be attracted to the notions I was putting forward. Have even managed to get the cycling data from the guy who runs Startup House|Beds in SoMA.

Finding a co-founder in the US would take more effort. However, if I was to network more so there and perform the structured interviews, my best guess is I’d have a good shot at finding one or more.

There is a strong cycling culture around San Francisco (at least for commute to work) and I noticed also the Google Bicycles at Google HQ. Some I spoke to said around Berkley it was more what I’m used to with MAMILs on good carbon road bikes.

I bought a Palo Alto Bicycles jersey from the bike shop on University Drive. I suspect Palo Alto would be a good area to.

If not in the Bay Area, where else across the globe should I possibly look at?
I asked this question of a few. With my friend from the UK, I was expecting to hear Shoreditch mentioned. Instead he said Berlin. When I mentioned it to some others they to, had heard positive things about Berlin. No one really talked about Singapore.

One person from Coca-Cola Ventures, that I met at the 500 startups event, asked about Sydney & Melbourne. I said that all roads seem to lead back to the Bay Area. She mentioned that her team was trying to understand why the Atlanta startup scene was not as entrepreneurial as they’d expected. She was at the 500 startups event to gain an understanding of the type of organisations attending i.e. she was exploring and learning like myself.

Alas, as Michael S Malone stated at the Churchill Club event – “The next Silicon Valley is Silicon Valley”.

whats next?

The notion of disconnect that I had started to sense via the internet between the hipster style startup entrepreneurs and the more seasoned software developers (where scalable software is their craft) was not really observed in the events I attended. If I had spent more time or been there, when some more relevant meet ups were on, I might have been able to investigate this further. My anecdotal evidence suggests that outside of hardware, the hipster style app startups are currently, a class restricted at least initially, to what those seasoned developers have made available. I need to still spend more time on this in the future.

The one notion that I did observe from the Michael S Malone’s talk is that the Silicon Valley veterans are questioning really whats going in San Francisco. Accommodation costs and other costs of living seemed exorbitant. Whilst in previous waves there had been a slow and steady movement towards San Francisco. It had jumped a number of areas directly to San Francisco with the likes of Zygna and Twitter. They also seem to not think there is much more to find around notions related to social interactions. Because of this his thoughts were that a new cluster will form to the west of the current Silicon Valley area where real-estate costs are still moderate (as my iPhone died – battery drains quicker there, I didn’t write it down). I also left with the impression that hardware will again play a stronger role in the next wave – Internet of Things??. He spent a bit of time talking about the number of transistors produced yearly in the world – was it Gordon Moore who said more transistors produced each year, then rain drops in California? (the number now exceeds rain drop in the world – how they can qualify this I’m not sure).

So for me I think the next steps are:
– create a pivot business model for the cycling app
– revise a questionnaire to address the hypothesis in the business model
– book another trip to the Bay Area – try to arrange interviews before I go
– spend more time outside San Francisco (gain greater understanding of cost of living)
– gain greater understanding of visas

Dawn of new productivity

How many people reading this, do you think would now employ someone if they didn’t know how to type, use a word processor or spreadsheet? Not many I’d say.

Its been years now since I’ve used Microsoft Office which used to be the killer productivity application in the PC era. If I need to edit a document, I use LibreOffice (its free in many ways) but thats only if the people I’m engaging with still want a document to be attached in an email.

I’d much prefer to use Google Docs and just share the document. In Google Docs, you have been able to have multiple people sharing and editing the one document through a web interface for a while. Sure it may not have been as feature rich as the latest version of Microsoft Office but we haven’t needed those extra features to be productive with our suppliers and customer. We achieve what we need to do efficiently without going backward and forwards through emails and using change tracking.

Whats more we can be working anywhere, that we have internet access and still be productive.

As some now argue, we are in the post PC era, whereby the tools and methods developed for that generation are now just becoming something expected. Its the hurdle that you have to overcome, which our children learn at an early age, to be able to participate in the modern knowledge based workforce.

But what may you ask, are the current productivity tools that add value now? Well for me, its the ability to engage through social media with tools such as Twitter, LinkedIn and this blog. They allow me to build up social capital with persons, such that if I need assistance, I have a pool of people available to me from wherever I’m located, on whatever device, to help get me answers.

Its this now, the ability to grow social capital and increase your reach that is the dawn of new productivity. Its just a given, that people can type, use a spreadsheet or create a document. But would you employ someone if they are even more productive online with social media?

 

Being distracted with social media

I’ve neglected this blog for too long. Its not that I don’t enjoy writing posts, its that other forms of social media have occupied my attention.

What I found in the past, was that I enjoyed writing the blog posts. It enabled me to solidify my thoughts around a topic. However, it didn’t help me directly create income or gain new sales. It had the effect of increasing my reputation in certain topics and creating influence in distant markets. I’ve found and gained some valuable friendships from it.

Suffice it to say, blogging has been a powerful tool to increase my social capital.

Yet what has been occupying my attention is the likes of Twitter (@hortovanyi), Instagram, LinkedIn and Four Square. You can find the places I engage from my about.me page.

Its the immediacy of the interactions that keeps me going back. The thrill of having people, “like” one of your photos in instagram or receiving an “@ reply” on twitter is engaging.

Yes a comment on my blog does engage me to. But its a little more formal and considered. Maybe its just the subject matter I’ve been blogging about. Not to worry, I’ll start writing more posts!